Feminism in the Teacher’s Lounge

Always Forever Us is not my story, it is fiction, except for the Jake character, he is real. My main character, Julia, may be born of my imagination, but we share some experiences and opinions. We both had gender-biased male bosses and we both found our own way to stand up for ourselves.

But my story wouldn’t make for compelling reading. You see, I was a teacher in a small town. Well, it couldn’t really be called a town although there was a gas station and a small grocery store, a thriving garden shop and a quaint village close by. Anyway, my school was in a rural area but close to a large city.

I began my teaching career in 1973. I was interviewed for a grades 6-12 vocal music position by the middle-school principal. I saw the job on my college’s office for connecting graduates with people hiring graduates. I had been searching the notebooks with listings for teaching jobs for a year, then when I saw a music teaching job, I would type a letter to the school district on my portable Sears typewriter. Often, with only one music teacher in a building, or even in a district, there were fewer job openings than those for a classroom teacher.

When I saw Mr. H’s name on the listing for a job in the county where I had grown up, I jumped on the opportunity. I called my parents and said, “Mr. H. is hiring a music teacher. Can you put in a good word for me at church?” My mother reminded me that when my father was on the local school board at the elementary school I attended, he had hired Mr. H’s wife. She was my second-grade teacher and later, my art teacher.

I had an “in”!

Sure enough, Mr. H. was interested in hiring me, but had some reservations about my size. This was middle school and senior high school after all, and, like Julia, I was two inches shorter than five feet tall. Mr. H. was concerned I would not have the demeanor or size to discipline students who were sometimes a foot taller than me.

Aha! I had that covered. During the year I spent looking for a teaching job I was a substitute teacher at three or four schools. Most of them were high schools. I suppose I was known at these high schools for being tough, and I hope fair, but at any rate, I was able to control a classroom. In fact, I can still remember the times when I would be walking from the parking lot to the school and students would ask who I was that day. Upon hearing my reply, they were either happy they wouldn’t have me, or they would groan.

So, when Mr. H. mentioned his concerns, I asked him to call the principals of the schools where I had substitute taught. Within hours, I had the job.

I can’t remember where I got the MS mug, but I took it with me on my first day of teaching. I left it in my cubby in the teacher’s lounge where all the other teachers left their mugs. The cubbies allowed the school secretaries to put notices in one place rather than walk around the building handing out slips of paper telling us to do this and not to do that.

After a few weeks, I was visited in my classroom by Mr. H. He had my MS mug in his hand. I was rehearsing a choir and just nodded as he placed the mug on my desk. Later that afternoon, Mr. H. found me in the teacher’s lounge where I had, once again, taken my mug for my afternoon cup of tea. He told me not to leave my mug in the lounge. I said, “Okay,” and went on my way.

I put the mug on my desk and used it as a pencil cup. Several days later, Mr. H. told me he meant that I should take it home and not bring it back because he found the women’s libbers to be offensive. I don’t think he used those words, but that’s what he meant.

Now, remember this is 1973. Women could be fired for getting pregnant, the Title IX prohibition of discrimination in athletics—well, it stated any educational program receiving federal funds, but we all knew it meant athletics—had been passed in 1972, and if I were to apply for a credit card the company could ask for my husband’s permission before putting the card in my hand.

Many of us have referred to this time in the early seventies as women burning bras and students burning flags. Women protested gender inequality, but we didn’t have that fancy phrase, we just called it women’s rights, and students protested the war in Vietnam. Both groups were having some success in changing people’s opinions.

Except the opinion of my principal. There were no women administrators in my school district and if I recall correctly, no women on the board of education. While women were the majority in the classrooms, men ruled the district. I was a first-year teacher without tenure and my MS mug was a hill I wasn’t willing to die on. I took my mug home, placed it in my cabinet and recalled the encounter with Mr. H. every time I pulled it out. Thirty-seven years later, I still have the mug and I still recall the day Mr. H. found my innocent little mug offensive.

But I’d say that I have the last laugh. The bra burners and flag burners were successful. The war ended that year and in 1974 it was illegal to refuse credit based on gender. Five years later it was illegal to fire a woman because she was pregnant.

Although the sixties was the decade of free love, the early seventies was the beginning of peaceful, and sometimes not-so-peaceful, protest. You’ve come a long way, baby.  

Published by Deb

Now, I am an author! Before writing my first book, Always Forever Us, I was a music teacher for twenty-five years, then, became the coordinator of fine arts programs for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. After retiring from teaching and the state education department, I became the executive director of the Missouri Alliance for Arts Education. I now live in central Florida where I enjoy the sunshine while I write book 2 in the Always Us series. I also perform as the Deb and Dave singing duo. It's never too late to do the things you love!

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